City task force targets animal concerns

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A little girl feeds treats to two dogs at the Humane Society.

Photo: Two dogs named Deku and Mr. Wrinkles are adopted from HSPRAC by a local family on December 22. (Courtesy of HSPRAC on Facebook)

By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

In November, City of Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford appointed the Mayor’s Action Team for Animal Concerns. The task force recently reported to City Council on its findings and its plans.

Chris Moulds, a member of MATAC, read a prepared report from task force leader Gina Hollingsworth to the council and gathered community members. According to Hollingsworth, the shelter, the city’s animal control, the community and the council must all work together to stabilize stray animal populations.

“The problem belongs to everyone who lives in the City of Gadsden, and it is ours as a community to change,” Hollingsworth said. “It requires every person in those groups to be engaged and involved.”

According to its website, the Humane Society Pet Rescue and Adoption Center has served the animals and humans of Gadsden and Attalla since 1973. Now HSPRAC is one of the primary partners of the city’s action team.

“Every animal deserves to be treated humanely,” Hollingsworth said.

Led by a volunteer board of directors, HSPRAC houses animals found by animal control, assists in animal cruelty investigations, provides services like spay and neuter and conducts educational outreach in the community. Its most recent outreach waived adoption fees for fully vetted animals, allowing them to find a home for the holidays.

“Our primary goal is to keep the dog out of the shelter and to get them back home,” Hollingsworth said. “At that point, we can work with the owners to identify their needs to retain pet responsibility.”

Part of the MATAC action plan involves educating and assisting pet owners who may be unable to care for their animals — as well as keeping these owners accountable.

“The definition of ‘stray’ is a domestic animal or person that is wandering at large or is lost,” Hollingsworth said. “Every animal in the city belongs — not past tense, belongs — to someone. They weren’t just dropped out of the sky. We will be asking for the community’s involvement in identifying and reporting to our action committee, the shelter and animal control who these at-large animals, specifically dogs, belong to.”

Hollingsworth commended Lieutenant Cliff Heard, also a MATAC member, for his work in animal control.

“Lieutenant Cliff Heard with the animal control department [is] working to try to get the right people in place and convey the message of responsiveness to the community, enforcing responsibility and accountability in his department,” she said.

Hollingsworth and Moulds both encouraged councilmembers to be aware of the animals — at-large or otherwise — in their districts. Each district, they said, has at least one cat colony.

Although these colonies are relatively independent, it is still vital to limit their numbers. MATAC member Mitch Chastain takes care of each colony in the city, feeding them regularly as well as having them spayed and neutered in a trap-and-release model of care.

“To be successful, we must ‘BARK,’” Hollingsworth said. “‘B’ is for buy-in from all involved, ‘A’ for accountability from everyone in a leadership role. ‘R’ is for responsibility of pet owners, and ‘K’ is for kindness. If you see something, say something. If you can volunteer a few hours at the shelter, please do so. If your neighbor is struggling and cannot afford food for their pets this month, buy a bag.”

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